Netrunner 14 Frontier Review – Buggy Installer, But Delivers a Good KDE Experience

Netrunner is a GNU/Linux distribution that revolves around the KDE desktop. It is released in two different versions. One is called the ‘Standard release’ which is based on Kubuntu’s core, and the other is called the ‘Rolling release’, and it is based on Manjaro’s core (which is basically ‘Arch Linux’ core).

Both versions include proprietary multimedia codecs (Adobe flash included) & proprietary applications such as Skype by default, something that most users will appreciate. Since I have never used this distribution, I decided to download the Kubuntu 14.04 LTS based release that got released a few days ago.

Unlike the ‘Rolling release’, this one is supported up to 5 years. It also includes a somewhat customized KDE (4.13.1) desktop (for instance, it comes with a feature called ‘DreamDesktop’, enabled by default — a feature that lets adding a video as the desktop background), Kernel 3.13.0-24, X.Org 1.15.1, Skype 4.3, Muon Discover 2.2 (Kubuntu’s software center) and ships with an interesting feature called ‘Firefox instant start’ which opens up Firefox (included version is 30.0) in an instant!. More on that later.

Netrunner 14 Frontier Desktop

I downloaded the 64-bit version which is about 1.4GB in size and created a Live USB for installing it (alongeside Windows 8.1). But before I begin sharing my experience, below is a brief introduction to my hardware:

Intel Core i3-2330M CPU, Intel HD 3000 GPU, 4GB RAM (DDR3), Toshiba 7200 RPM (320GB) SATA HDD, Intel N-1030 Wireless adapter, Realtek network adapter ('RTL8168'), LED display with 1366x768 resolution (60Hz/60FPS). It's a Dell Vostro V-131 notebook.

The Installer …

You know, the moment I saw it was based on Kubuntu, it got me a little worried to be honest. This was because I was never impressed with Kubuntu. I have had used its initial release and a few more that came after, but Kubuntu, when compared to the Gnome based Ubuntu back then, was very buggy as the KDE apps used to crash all over the place!. It never struck me as a robust distribution, which is also why I have not tried it in years.

So anyway, with that in mind, I booted the notebook computer using the Live USB and it presented me with a beautiful looking KDE desktop. ‘So far, so good’, thought I. Once the desktop finished loading, I executed the installer (which is the one used in Kubuntu) almost immediately. The installer is very intuitive and beautiful looking, I give it that. So I quickly went through the ‘steps’ (language selection, network, disk setup, time zone selection… you know the drill) and by the time I got to ‘Keyboard setup’, it gave me this big fat error and crashed!. What a nightmare!.

Kubuntu installer crashing at keyboard setup in 'Netrunner 14'

So I meditated on that for a few seconds 😛 & suddenly I had a hint that this might have been due to the automatic detection of my language (through the ‘time zone’ that I had selected of course) & the installer then trying to display a different keyboard layout as a result, because it was apparent that it had no issues while displaying US based layouts, as it is something that is too big to go unnoticed.

So I took a note of the current time in US (Washington), disconnect the internet connection, rebooted the PC and changed the time through BIOS (had troubles while trying to do that in Netrunner) to the current US time. Then booted into the Netrunner using the Live USB, went through the installation without connecting to internet, and it worked. So if you are too having similar issues, then I recommend that you try this. Then once you have installed the OS you can easily add/remove language & keyboard layout using KDE’s ‘System Settings’ window.

Keyboard layout 'step' on Netrunner 14 installer
Hooray! 😉 …

Update: Actually, there is no way for an installer to automatically predict your time-zone purely based on the date & time of your PC, unless it has access to the internet. So there is no point of changing your time to US time in the event of this crash. So all you have to do, is to disconnect the internet connection, shut down the PC from the Live desktop session (don’t reboot, shut it down). Then turn ON the PC again, make sure the internet connection is OFF, boot into the Live desktop session, then execute the installer, and at the ‘Keyboard setup’, Netrunner will fall back to its default setting (‘US’). It should do the trick (yes I tested it).

As far as the installer was concerned, it was very very disappointing. The installer should be one of the robust components of an OS, and if it fails by creating an everlasting, negative impression, well it ain’t good!. That said, it is a bit unfair to hold it against Netrunner as the installer is Kubuntu based, still…

Netrunner 14 installer

Other than that, I had no further issues with the installation. Disk setup, hardware detection… everything went well.

First Boot-up & the Desktop …

GRUB boot menu screen - Netrunner 14
The color Blue is too hard on the eyes, especially on fullscreen…

Now I understand that Netrunner developers are trying to go with the whole blueish theme here. But I think the color Blue dominates the GRUB screen too much (above). I have a humble suggestion. How about making the blueish background also black, while keeping the background of the selected/highlighted text lines in blue, where the selected texts are displayed in white?

I liked the boot-logo though. It is beautiful.

Netrunner 14 boot-logo

The Desktop …

Netrunner 14 desktop with a different background

I like how they have arranged the desktop. The background, icon layout (arranged horizontally)… it is a nice looking desktop layout with custom ‘Folder’ view called ‘Netrunner Desktop’.

*. Although I had never used Netrunner before, I could see from the screenshots on internet that they have decided to stick with the Qt/KDE style theme rather than going with a GnomeShell looking one that the previous release used, which does not make a whole lot of sense for a distribution that is based on KDE.

Default Qt-KDE theme in Netrunner 14

*. ‘Homerun Kicker’ is the start-menu, it is quite minimalist and excellent. When you click on the ‘Suspend’, ‘Restart’ & ‘Shutdown’ icons, it executes the chosen action without having to conform, which is also pretty neat.

Homerun Kicker' - Netrunner 14

*. One thing that bothered me about the bottom panel was that it does not display ‘tooltips’ when you hover over its icons. Now I too find it sometimes to be a distraction to have the tooltips enabled, but not having them have now forced me to click on indicator icons (specially) to read their ‘status’ (say while trying to read the batter charge levels, for example). This might be an issue for those that are new to KDE, but there is an option called ‘Show Information Tips’ under ‘Workspace’ in KDE ‘System Setting’ window, that enables this. So no harm done, in a way I mean :) .

Bottom panel 'tooltips' are disabled by default in 'Netrunner 14'

*. There is also an additional volume indicator present called ‘Veromix’ which gives access to huge number of effects, an equalizer… that can be applied system-wide which is pretty handy.

'Veromix' sound controller in 'Netrunner 14'

*. I do not know if it a new feature in KDE 4.13.1 or it is due to a tweak from Netrunner, but I like how things are laid out and displayed in ‘My Computer’ window, it looks very clean.

'My Computer' window - 'Netrunner 14'

Other Applications …

Netruner 14 comes with a good collection of useful (& popular) software applications. I am not going to go over all of them, but to mention a few: GIMP 2.8.10, Steam, Thunderbird 24.6.0, OpenJDK 7u55, Clementine 1.2, Qmmp 0.7.4, VLC 2.1.4, LibreOffice, Yakuake 2.9.9 (drop-down terminal emulator), vokoscreen (excellent desktop recorder), Virtualbox 4.3.10, Adobe Flash and as mentioned in the beginning, it supports playing popular proprietary multimedia codecs by default.

‘Firefox Instant Start’ …

Firefox was never known for its faster startup times. But in Netrunner 14, if you click on Firefox icon after the desktop gets fully loaded, it gets open up almost immediately!. From a technological perspective, this is merely an illusion, because what they have done is, they have created a script (using an existing feature of KDE) that automatically loads Firefox into the RAM with the desktop startup. So by the time you click on its icon, since it is already there on the RAM, it presents the user with the illusion of an instant startup.

'Firefox' running on the background on 'Netrunner 14'

But, after clicking on its icon, the time a user has to wait till Firefox’s window appears (in a normal scenario), these waiting times are now simply added to the system’s startup (more or less) instead. So there is no real benefit (as far as I can see), not necessarily.

But being said that, from an emotional outlook, I think this is a good illusion. I like it 😉 .

However, this feature is also only available if you have 2GB or more RAM. But as long as you can make a simple calculation (from Gigabytes to Kilobytes), you can easily change the default value (2000000) on this script to force it to work on PCs with RAM capacity less than 2GB. Or, if you do not like this feature, then you can easily disable it under ‘Start-up & Shutdown…’ setting of ‘System Settings’ window as well.

Editing the 'Firefox' file on 'Netrunner 14'

Performance Related Details …

I measured these details before touching any application for keeping the system in ‘pure state’ to keep the accuracy of the readings. Also, after installing the system, I booted into the desktop and then shut it down. I did this few times (reboots included), for letting things to settle down. Also, while measuring, I took five samples of each test (except the power usage test since the tool that measure it takes a lot of samples thus it is highly accurate) and then based on that data I calculated the average values and used them for creating the graphs.

For the comparison, I decided to use data from two of my recent KDE based reviews: ‘OpenMandriva Lx 2014.0‘ & ‘Manjaro 0.8.9 KDE‘. They include KDE 4.12.2 & 4.12.4, versions, respectfully.

Boot-up Times

Boot-up Times  - Netrunner 14, OpenMandriva Lx 2014, Manjaro 0.8.9 KDE

As you can see, Netrunner 14 was about 13.5% faster to boot when compared to ‘OpenMandriva Lx’ and 7.8% slower compared to ‘Manjaro’.

Memory Usage Upon Desktop Loading

Memory Usage - Netrunner 14, OpenMandriva Lx 2014, Manjaro 0.8.9 KDE

Netrunner 14 scored the highest memory usage readings of the three (14.5% more compared to ‘OpenMandriva Lx’ & 48% more compared to ‘Manjaro’). This reading however is mostly due to the ‘Firefox instant startup’ feature that I mentioned earlier and few other additional applications that Netrunner 14 executes at the desktop start-up.

At the desktop start-up Firefox consumes about 190MiB, Yakuake Terminal emulator (14MiB), KDE IM Contacts (7MiB), Krunner (17MiB), Veromix volume controller (8MiB)… so altogether it is roughly about 236MiB. If you remove that much from the memory usage, then it drops around 535MiB mark which is pretty normal for most KDE based distributions, though there are some that are more lightweight (such as ‘KaOS 2014‘ for instance).

Still, despite having this slight disadvantage of having to execute few additional programs, Netrunner 14 boots pretty fast, & think this is due to ‘ureadahead’ — a utility that is developed by Ubuntu that has the ability to dramatically reduce boot-up times.

CPU Usage at idle

CPU usage at idle - 'Netrunner 14'

System monitor process kept consuming 1% of CPU cycles most of the time. Other than that, application interaction with the CPU was minimal for long periods, when the OS was at idle. Very nice.

Power Usage at idle

Power Usage at idle on 'Netrunner 14'

Power Usage at idle - Netrunner 14, OpenMandriva Lx 2014, Manjaro 0.8.9 KDE

Power consumption of Netrunner 14 was also a bit higher, although it was not as high as under ‘OpenMandriva Lx’, it was no where near the impressive low readings of ‘Manjaro. I however was able to fix it to an acceptable degree by installing ‘TLP’ (a tool that automatically lowers the power consumption by applying various hardware based tweaks), just like I was able to under Ubuntu 14.04 LTS and Linux Mint 17 Cinnamon.

Power Usage at idle after installing 'TLP' on 'Netrunner 14'

Note: I had disabled power saving options that turn OFF & dim the display screen. Also as usual, kept Wi-Fi turned ON and let the OS idle. I also turn Bluetooth OFF, but KDE had failed to recognize the adapter, but its icon was however displayed on the notification area (more on that later).

OS Responsiveness

Those that read my reviews are aware of my long-time complaint about KDE (with the exception of ‘KaOS’) not being as responsive as other desktops (Gnome, XFce or E17) are when the disk drive is under a reasonable stress, although the degree to which a KDE distribution is responsive varies from distribution to distribution, from my experience. Some are slightly better while other are just horrible. I do not know what your experience is with such matters though.

So I carried out my test. While copying a 1.4GB file within ‘Home’ folder, I tried to play video file through VLC. Then I tried to open: ‘LibreOffice Writer’, ‘Konsole’ with the hope of running a command, system monitor & in between, I tried to navigate into folders that had somewhat larger amount of files inside them using the file manager.

OS Responsiveness test - 'Netrunner 14'
This is just an illustration…

So how did it go?

Well, VLC was able to play the file only after the file copy execution was finished. But I would not hold it against Netrunner 14, as it is how with VLC on most such occasions under various desktops. The OS however, got stuck for few seconds, then it ‘came back’ and I could then use the mouse to use the ‘start-menu’ for starting applications or could use the file manager (while I could use it, it responded really well by opening folders reasonably faster). This only lasted for a few seconds and then it went into being stuck. This cycle of being stuck and then being responsive, it continued till the file was finished copying.

It was nowhere near being excellent nor I can call it of being ‘good’. I would say it was ‘Okay’. The frustration continues…

ACPI and Hardware Issues

My fingerprint reader is not yet supported by GNU/Linux. Bluetooth adapter was recognized the first time I booted into the desktop. I turned it OFF and the issue came into being from the next boot-up where KDE failed to recognize it. I recall a similar incident in ‘OpenMandriva Lx 2014’ as well.

Bluetooth issue on 'Netrunner 14'

Screen brightness gets reset to its maximum upon each desktop login, but this is how it is under most other distributions as well. Other than that, other hardware devices worked without major issues.

Shutdown Delay

Shutdown Delay - Netrunner 14, OpenMandriva Lx 2014, Manjaro 0.8.9 KDE

Netrunner 14 was the contender of the three, when it came to quickly turning OFF the PC. It was 34.8% faster compared to ‘OpenMandriva Lx’ & 11.8% when compared to ‘Manjaro’ which was great!.

Final Words …

My biggest frustration is with the installer. After all these years, Kubuntu has still failed to achieve a certain degree of maturity, one that should arrive naturally with the progress of time anyway. Sure there is luckily a workaround, but this is still a major issue & I do not know if it is associated with other languages either.

But other than that, even though Netrunner 14 had few minor issues, it pretty much behaved how a typical KDE desktop does on my hardware, oh! and additionally, as mentioned few times, if you have a RAM capacity that is beyond 2GB, then you can enjoy an instant Firefox execution which is pretty unique also. But as always, the choice is yours. If interested, please go to this web page to learn more and to download it. Thank you for reading.

16 thoughts on “Netrunner 14 Frontier Review – Buggy Installer, But Delivers a Good KDE Experience

  1. Well this is a surprise. You are the first person I have ever heard of in a long, long time that has had trouble with the installer. I can’t help but wonder why. Most people don’t, but stuff happens. :) When you made the comment that you had not tried Kubuntu since the first few releases I knew where this was headed. I don’t really mind because review are based mostly on personal opinion, the hardware used and also what a person expects about the performance of a distribution. You are correct that the first few releases of Kubuntu were not very impressive but that seems to have changed in the last several years. I’m not really a KDE person but Netrunner did seem interesting to me. I have a test partition that I install different distros on, just to see what they are like, and I didn’t really have any problems with the install. The problems that you had with the installer was something that I’ve never seen before and I was impressed with the way you figured it out. During my test of the distro I never really had any performance problems but then again hardware is always an issue when testing. To me KDE distros always seem to be a little heavy. I liked your review because it was so in depth and seemed to cover all the bases. I thought that you were not really fair in blaming the faults of Netrunner on Kubuntu, but you hear that all the time in reviews and that’s not always the case. Anyway, it is what it is. Thank you for taking the time to review this disto and giving me something new to think about and if I ever run into that install bug I’ll know what to do. 😀

    • You’re welcome Sathish. I don’t have such a configuration though… in my own way, I am quite limited :( . Sorry about that.

  2. Thank you for this nice review. I didn’t see any bad points installing Netrunner. It runs well up from the rc version. I have an old PC from 2007 with dual core Athlon and 3GB RAM and therefore Netrunner is a goot choice. BUT. I am using Linux systems in a tradidional way with terminal for system management. I don’t use the graphical additions e.c. for package management. If you like the debian way and if you like KDE and if you like plenty of additions over then Netrunner is the BEST choice for PC using. Also with this LTS release.

  3. Hey Gayan, when you tested Manjaro KDE 0.8.9 there was an error with kernel configuration, an ‘incorrect’ i/o scheduler was accidentally used (dealine). Your review helped us pick it up.
    KaOS performed better because it was using the ‘correct’ i/o scheduler, CFQ.

    (I say ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ broadly, in terms of desktop systems)

    Since then, we haven’t just returned to what would have been the ‘correct’ i/o scheduler, we’ve moved to one that provides an even more responsive experience; the BFQ i/o scheduler.

    If you perform your file_copy+app_open test again on 0.8.10 media (or even an updated older install), you’ll find the results very different than when you last did it. 😉

    • Hi Rob,

      First of all, I’m very sorry about the late response. Somehow I didn’t notice your comment up until just now!. So please forgive me :).

      Anyhow, I’m not currently running Manjaro… but will try to test it out. Thank you very much for the feedback and I’m glad that I was able to help you guys out :).

      P.S: Excellent decision about switching to BFQ. It’s such a great I/O scheduler (I just love it!) that’s over looked by many.

  4. How exactly you reduce power consumption? This is great weakness in netrunner compare to ubuntu unity.
    Sometimes kwin get crazy and eat 25-30% my i7 CPU and if you works from battery well, you will do it not as long as you expected. Simple reboot fix this issue for a time. But still.. this is nasty bug. And I amaized that you say about 1% cpu usage, nothing close to that in my test virtualbox

    • Hi Maksim,

      I was never a huge fan of virtualization, it just gives me the creeps 😉 . And with all due respect, that’s no way to truly test & evaluate an operating system. Basically, you’re at the mercy of the application that provides the virtualization infrastructure, and the operating system on which it runs.

      For instance, I can run Ubuntu 14.04 LTS really well on Windows 8.1 with the help of ‘VirtualBox’. But the performance of Netrunner 14 is horrible in the same setup. Here, I’m specifically referring to huge delays in HDD read/writes (& interestingly, I have come across this issue in a lot of unpopular distributions too). It takes ages to open an app in Netrunner 14 using ‘VirtualBox’ on Windows 8.1, but they open-up extremely faster on a permanently installed Netrunner 14…

      Anyhow, coming back to you question. I’m not exactly sure what causing the unusual amount of CPU usages, it’s perhaps a bug in ‘KWin’, or it probably has something to do with ‘VirtualBox’ or perhaps it’s due to something else. My humble advice to you is to install Netrunner on your HDD permanently, and then try evaluating its performance.

      P.S: You can install ‘TLP’ using the below commands (I forgot about that question, forgive me):

      sudo apt-add-repository ppa:linrunner/tlp

      sudo apt-get update

      sudo apt-get install tlp

      Once it installs, reboot the PC. That’s it.

  5. This last weekend I installed 64-bit Netrunner on a old 2GB Gateway LT3101U laptop that I had laying around (and which had upgraded with and SSD driver). The install was flawless and I’ve had no problems with any configuration items since. I’m quite pleased with it.

  6. Thanks for your review and too bad you had issues with the installer, I’ve never encountered something like it.
    I have been fooling around with KDE for a while, since and am not a huge fan, but this one seems nice.
    Waiting for plasma5 though.. 😉

    BTW, how did you monitor you energy usage? I’m interested in doing so myself.


Leave a Comment